The History of Medieval Europe

By Lynn Thorndike; James T. Shotwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
THE RISE AND SPREAD OF MOHAMMEDANISM

WHILE monks were spreading Christianity in the West, a new Oriental religion arose in Arabia under the leaderof the prophet, Mohammed, who was born before about 570 in Mecca, a small trading-town fifty Mohammed miles from the Red Sea. Of conditions in Arabia before Mohammed we know very little. The Arabs or Saracens had made raids into the Byzantine Empire and had also been employed by it as mercenaries. Most of them led a semi-nomadic life in their desert country, much of which is still unexplored by outsiders. From this region waves of invasion had swept over the fertile Tigris- Euphrates river basin in ages long before the days of Greece and Rome. The Arabs could not read or write, but were fond of extemporized poetry, in which they drew a somewhat idealized portrait of themselves as generous, hospitable, truthful, and chivalrous bandits. There was no political organization. Society was in the tribal state and blood feuds prevailed between the clans. There were, however, some social distinctions and a certain amount of wealth and luxury. Slavery and polygamy both existed and there was a good deal of sexual immorality. The various tribes differed considerably in their degree of civilization. Some had been more or less converted to Christianity or to Judaism; others still adhered to simple and rude rites that were suggestive of primitive man's religion. On the whole, we do not know enough of religious conditions in. Arabia before Mohammed to tell how far he was indebted to previous faiths and worships.

The Arabs before Mohammed

The sources about Mohammed himself are much more satisfactory, although it is hard for Western historians both to appreciate and to discount their Oriental spirit and psychology. The Koran, a collection of the prophetic utter

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